I am sitting in front of Melove’s house, visiting with her and her grandmother. Her 18 month old daughter, born when I first arrived in Morne Rogue clings to her mother’s skirt and tries to reach for her breast. The grandmother laughs and shoves the small, still baby hand away. The little girl, is showing signs of malnutrition. Her hair has the familiar redish tint and does not grow long enough for even the smallest barret or bow. Her skin, that shone a year ago, is dull and dusty instead of rich and dark. There is no evidence of food anywhere; only the bottles of castor oil the grandmother sells by the side of the road.
Melove’s son, who lost his twin last year to malnutrition has grown more responsive. He clings to his great grandmother and appears healthy with clear skin and thick hair. For the second time, he gains access to the family food pot over this new baby sister. His twin, who did not win, in the struggle to gain enough food is gone. I had sent Melove her picture but she removes it from the photo book I made her and sends it to the Dominican Republic with her two sisters who live there now. She shrugs and says she is dead.
A young man in a neat shirt and trousers comes to take the grandmother to the church. “Adventist” she reminds me. The young man pulls the wheelchair out from behind the house where it hangs perilously over the gully. He works to make minor repairs and moves it over the uneven ground to where the grandmother waits. The grandmother puts on a clean t-shirt, laughing as breasts, stomach and arms emerge and slip away again.
A man approaches us and Melove quickly tells me to leave. I do as she says. There is an urgency to her voice. I walk down the road, listening to her yell at the man. The chair I had been sitting on is raised above her head and she is getting ready to strike a blow. People stand in the road to stare but I do not turn back again. I have seen Melove stand and defend her home and family before.
Melove has been going to sewing school but tells me she does not like school and wants to start a clothing business. The small grocery business failed when everything was stolen. She wants to start a clothing business this time. So far, she has gone to baking school, high school and sewing school. She has tried other businesses.
She tells me she has a new boyfriend who loves her and her family but does not have a job. The yelling gets louder, even as I walk further away.
A few more steps and I turn right down another road. The fields and small gardens are slowly being replaced with grand walls and even grander houses behind them; the people who lived and worked there forced to move on, even if their family had occupied that land for decades. The yard of one new walled home would have fed and housed a multi family, multi generational family for many years to come. Many of these grand houses are built as an investment and sit empty; too large and expensive for anyone.
Melove is saved because her family house sits between a gully of garbage and the road. The whole thing is less than 20 feet wide; a thin strip of poles and dirt shaking beside a seasonal stream filled with garbage. The grandmother says she owns it but ownership is difficult to prove and valid only until someone else with more power wants it. It seems more likely that a flood will claim her house than an absentee owner. The house teeters on less land than it did the year before.
The grandmother, being pushed by the young man walks beside me or rather bumps along beside me. The Adventist Church is not too far away and they make this effort to go and get her several times a week. The road is flooded each rainy season and a new route memorized around the ruts and potholes. There is no reason, to fix them, as next rainy season more will return.
Melove has grown large with the familiar stomach of the very poor who dine on white rice and spaghetti. She looks seven months pregnant; weight that most likely came on when she stopped breastfeeding. She has been to get a birth control shot so she is not pregnant but her baby daughter is clearly in a state of impending crisis.
Her older daughter, in the waking time of puberty, is not safe there in the doorless house by the side of the road. She looks at me as if to say, “What good is school? I have no food and no door to protect me.” She does not have her mother’s keen sense of manipulation, defense or ability to attract suitors. She braids her friends hair and wipes the baby’s nose with the hem of her dress.
The next day, the fight forgotten, I am on a moto heading up Melove’s road to a meeting with a school director. When Melove sees me, she hops on another moto and the two drivers race up the road to the school, Melove on one moto and me on the other with people waving. She comes to the meeting, sitting proudly by my side as we talk to the director. Later, as we walk down the road I say maybe a little less hitting people with chairs and she laughs. We find a moto and ride back down the road together.